In Passing: Michael Doane, the Man of a Million Stories
Anyone who knew Michael Doane knew that he was a man of a million stories. He was a prolific talker who could bend your ear for hours about politics, literature, sports, business, the weather – the topic rarely mattered. At dinner he would hold forth tirelessly and Mom would kick him under the table begging him to stop. We all giggled but he was never deterred. Dad loved conversation the way car nuts are obsessed with cars.
There were the weeks he spent with the Lakota Sioux researching his book Bullet Heart and the tales he learned from tribal leaders in a sweat lodge. There was that time in Yankton when the jealous ex-boyfriend of a girl he was dating tried to shoot him during a frenzied pursuit across the university campus. Dad had befriended the football jocks by writing their college term papers. He found refuge in the linebacker’s dorm room.
They were colorful tales of a complete and memorable life. He traveled the world, led an accomplished career in IT and he published five novels and five business books. Dad died on Friday at his home in Angers, France after a long battle with bladder and prostate cancer. He was 67.
Richard Michael Doane was born on August 3, 1952 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Richard and Margaret Doane. His father was a marketing executive with the meat processing company John Morrell. The family moved around – to West Covina, to Ottumwa, Iowa, and then back to Sioux Falls, where Dad attended O’Gorman High School. He briefly attended the seminary, hoping to one day become a Catholic priest. He was kicked out, he claimed, for studying Latin in the bathroom after curfew. Later on, he set out to become a writer like his literary heroes Bernard Malamud and Jack Kerouac. He studied English literature at the University of South Dakota.
In 1979, he sold his car and used the money to fly to Paris. It was meant to be a two-week vacation. It became a permanent stay. Shortly after arriving to France, he finished writing his first book and he sent the manuscript to publishers in New York. He collected the rejection letters and hung them on the walls of his apartment until every publisher had turned him down. He wrote a second book and repeated the process. Eventually, Knopf agreed to publish his third novel. That book, The Legends of Jesse Dark, launched his writing career and a successful collaboration with Gary Fisketjon, the powerhouse editor who also discovered Tobias Wolff, Donna Tartt, and Haruki Murakami.
Dad’s storytelling was prone to literary license. He was a writer, after all. But when it came to his favorite story – the night he met Mom – he didn’t need to embellish. The story was incredible because it was true. They met at a Paris dinner party in January 1981. He spoke little French, she barely any English. It was love at first sight. He proposed after three days and they were married three months later. Their marriage lasted until the day he died.
In 1991, Dad moved the family from France to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We lived on a seven-acre spread with cacti and coyotes. Dad wore cowboy boots, tended a vegetable garden, and he finished his fourth book, City of Light.
Dad mixed with such a varied and fascinating crowd that everyone seemed like a character from one of his novels. There was his high school sweetheart Kim Kelly, the football star Jim Hargens and the enduring pals Bradley Aldern, Craig Volk and Danny Donahoe. There were business escapades in Tokyo and Hong Kong with Bob Friend, Graham Davis, Neil Walker and Chris Foulkes. My favorite stories were about the late-night adventures in the karaoke bar Osama and that time Dad convinced the proprietor that Bob Friend was the actor Tom Selleck. Dad always sang Dean Martin’s rendition of “Everybody Loves Somebody.”
At different times, Dad ran in the same literary circles as the authors T. C. Boyle, Pete Dexter and, one his idols, Jim Harrison. In Santa Barbara, he played in a weekly basketball game that rotated a lot of Hollywood types and retired well to dos. Memorable friends included Dean Moray, the screenwriter Paul Brickman and Chris Carter, the TV producer and creator of The X-Files. Dad was such an iconic smoker he claimed he had been the inspiration for that show’s character, “The Smoking Man.” Friends in Santa Barbara will remember him as “The Smoking Gardener,” a nickname he earned for the beautiful garden he cultivated and the constant cigarette that dangled from his mouth.
Dad spent the latter half of his career as a consultant and analyst in enterprise software, first in Sioux Falls and then in Peachtree City, Georgia. He became an expert on SAP and wrote four books on the subject. In 2017, he semi-retired briefly in Cape Town before he got sick.
Dad was a man of deep humanity for whom the human condition was a lifelong preoccupation. He preferred daily acts of kindness over grand gestures of generosity. He lived by William Blake’s words: “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.” He gave money to total strangers as indiscriminately as he would to friends and family.
Dad was the kind of guy who enjoyed humble fare as much he delighted in the high life. He was as content with Sloppy Joes as he was with sifter of cognac. He could recite passages from Shakespeare as easily as he could recall how many home runs Hank Aaron hit in 1966 (44). He liked the feel of a good suit but he was most himself in a Hawaiian shirt, jeans and loafers. He desired few material possessions than a reliable computer, good books and good wine and whiskey. He drove the same pickup truck for almost twenty years. Every Christmas he asked for the same thing: “Peace on Earth.”
In his final days, the man of a million stories uttered few words. We savored every one like they were the waning hours of summer.
He is survived by his wife, Claudine Doane; a son, Guillaume Doane; a daughter, Sarah Sheldon; a sister, Catherine Simpson; a brother, Robert Doane; a brother-in-law, Hervé Ripoche; and two grandchildren, Attila and Elodie.